How our SaaS startup broke into the Japanese market with no physical presence – Techdoxx

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 21, 2022
Updated 2022/01/21 at 8:02 PM

invading japan is often one of the biggest challenges a growing technology company will encounter. The country is home to some of the most advanced software and hardware leaders in the world. For the startups that serve these companies, “cracking Japan” is inevitably part of their growth and expansion roadmaps.

But barriers to entry are high. From differences in language and culture to the need to customize offerings for a Japanese audience, many early-stage tech companies find Japan impossible or very difficult to invade, even though the country is inevitably part of their growth and expansion roadmap.

In 2014, our company attracted its first Japanese customer when we were featured on the product discovery platform product search. While this initial awareness put us on users’ radar, awareness alone was not enough to sustain and develop a reliable pipeline. We’ve increased that initial interest to more than 400 of our highest-paid clients over the past eight years, making community—both virtual and in person—central to our offering and our relationship-building approach, all without having a dedicated county presence.

As a SaaS company with a community-led growth model, our journey to enter Japan may be different than companies with other models, but the basic principles remain the same. Here’s what we learned along the way.

Follow the first user(s)

The tech community in Japan is extremely active and interconnected, so a single customer can play a disproportionately large role in facilitating your expansion there. Our experience is that if early adopters like it, they will be your number one ambassador. If they don’t, their indifference will also speak volumes. With that in mind, your product should be prime-time ready before you start working with Japanese prospects. Japan is not a testing ground for MVP products.

As much as companies want to “be in Japan,” they don’t always spend enough time in the country.

Once you have the least amount of traction or market adoption, consider setting up mention tracking in Japanese. It may be surprising how quickly – and publicly – the word about good technology will proliferate through social channels.

Our first user was a developer at one of Japan’s largest emerging tech companies. As Bitrise began to spread throughout the organization, we started to see a number of new customers organically popping up in other companies as well.

Through our mentions tracking service (we use, we could see how the user adoption we were experiencing directly correlated with local discussions about us on social media.

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